December 6, 2006 | National Review Online

Symposium: Iraq Study Group Report

The cover of the Iraq Study Group report is red, white, and blue. The title sounds promising: “The Way Forward — A New Approach.” It’s pretty much downhill from there.

True, ISG co-chairmen James Baker and Lee Hamilton do say: “[W]e believe it would be wrong for the United States to abandon [Iraq] through a precipitate withdrawal of troops and support. A premature American departure from Iraq would almost certainly produce greater sectarian violence and further deterioration of conditions.”

They add: “We agree with the goal of U.S. policy as stated by the president: an Iraq than can ‘govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself.’”

The report then goes on to propose 79 recommendations that range from the obvious (“The United States should encourage dialogue between sectarian communities”) to the fatuous (“Diplomatic efforts …should seek to persuade Iran that it should take specific steps to improve the situation in Iraq.”).

I am disappointed — the more so because I had been cautiously optimistic. The “experts working group” which advised the ISG principals — and on which I served — was divided. On one side were the few of us who believed our mission was to provide creative options to move forward in Iraq. On the other side were the majority of the “experts” who believed the mission was to find a way out of Iraq — a “graceful exit,” as President Bush has put it.

I had reason to hope the principles would adopt the former approach; the report’s title and stated goal appeared to bear that out. But as I’ve read the report it has become clear that the principals did not will the means necessary to achieve the ends they profess to desire.

The report’s authors seem to have given little thought to what it would require to actually defeat the barbarians dispatching suicide bombers to slaughter Iraqi civilians. They put a lot of stock in what they call a “New Diplomatic Offensive.” This might be called a faith-based initiative: It expresses the conviction that America’s enemies are really friends who have been inadequately exposed to the discreet charms of the U.S. diplomatic corps.

Finally, it should be clear that the president has been ill-served by a process that transmogrified a laundry list of uninspired proposals into The Law, written in stone and handed down from Sinai. If Bush does not embrace these 79 Commandments, he will be branded a sinner – at least by the mainstream media.

I’m certain that Baker, Hamilton et al. worked hard and meant well. Let’s hope this is not the effort that caps their long careers.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies , a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

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